The Colts turned heads around the league this past week when they acquired running back Trent Richardson from the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a first round draft pick in 2014. After losing their leading rusher Vick Ballard for the year to IR, in addition to tight end Dwayne Allen and guard Donald Thomas, Richardson’s addition may have given the suddenly thin and down-on-their-luck Colts just the spark they needed. Richardson found the end zone on his very first carry in blue and white, and the Colts went on to defeat the reigning NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers, 27-7, Sunday at Candlestick Park.
In reality, although the Colts’ newfound rushing attack put them ahead, it was Ahmad Bradshaw – not the new and stilling learning Richardson (13 carries for 35 yards and 1 TD) – that stole the show on the ground. Bradshaw rushed for 95 yards and his own touchdown on 19 hard-fought carries, running “angry,” as described by head coach Chuck Pagano. Richardson may be playing with a chip on his shoulder after being traded from the team that drafted him third over all just a season ago, but Bradshaw ran with his own bitterness, clearly wanting to prove that he did not need any help heading the Colts’ running game and had no interest in giving up the starting job. Bradshaw also said post game that he was running for his grandmother, who passed away a few days ago.
In uncharacteristic fashion, the Colts earned their victory with three rushing touchdowns and not a single touchdown through the air. The third touchdown came from Luck, who ran six yards in for the score in the fourth quarter. Moreover, the Colts earned more net yards rushing than they did passing. Looks like offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton is finally seeing the results he envisioned when he said he wanted the pass-happy Colts to have a more balanced offense.
In contrast to last week, when the Colts were outplayed by the now 3-0 Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis was in control for most of the game and dominated the Niners on both sides of the ball, all despite missing key offensive and defensive starters. San Francisco could manage just one sack of Andrew Luck, even though the Colts’ offensive line was missing Thomas and center Samsom Satele. Tackle Anthony Castonzo did a notably admirable job of blocking last year’s leading sack generator Aldon Smith.
On defense, the Colts were without LaRon Landry, who was leading the NFL in tackles coming into this week, and Pat Angerer, but the unit, led by Robert Mathis (1.5 sacks), Antoine Bethea (5 solo tackles), and Jerrell Freeman (8 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble) stepped up and kept the athletic Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick in check. San Francisco was held to just 14 first downs, had no hundred-yard rushers, and only completed 25% of its third-down attempts.
Topping it all off, the Colts won the turnover battle, 1-0. Luck completed 18 of his 27 passes for 164 yards and threw no interceptions, whereas Kaepernick completed less than half of his passes and threw an interception, earning a Total QBR of just 11.8.
Sunday’s win for the Colts was both surprising – they were 10-point underdogs going in – and encouraging. The team that showed up at Candlestick Park was not the same one that practically gave a win away last week to Miami. There’s a lesson to be learned in that in the NFL, you can never get too high or too low. There are still 13 weeks of football to play, and the Colts, at 2-1, are right in the thick of things.